Neat Richard Dawkins essay on the God Delusion

"Natural selection is an anti-chance process, which gradually builds up complexity, step by tiny step. The end product of this ratcheting process is an eye, or a heart, or a brain - a device whose improbable complexity is utterly baffling until you spot the gentle ramp that leads up to it." -- via the Huffington Post

And a nice bit on the anthropic principle and the fortuitous alignment of various cosmological constants:

"You can estimate the very low odds against the six knobs all just happening to be correctly tuned, and conclude that a divine knob-twiddler must have been at work. But, as we have already seen, that explanation is vacuous because it begs the biggest question of all. The divine knob twiddler would himself have to have been at least as improbable as the settings of his knobs."

and further

"The anthropic principle entitles us to postulate a massive dose of luck in accounting for the existence of life on our planet. But there are limits. We are allowed one stroke of luck for the origin of evolution, and perhaps for a couple of other unique events like the origin of the eukaryotic cell and the origin of consciousness. But that's the end of our entitlement to large-scale luck."

And -- wait for it -- the FSM makes Its Awsome, Noodly Appearance:

"We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can't disprove Thor, fairies, leprechauns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can't disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable."

Like this stuff? Visit the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

Scouting for IP -- Baden Powell meets the Matrix

After a trial run of the program in in Hong Kong, Boy Scouts in the LA area can now earn a merit badge for respecting intellectual property. Via Slashdot

What a charming introduction to the media ecology of the online world. Instead of exploring, we're learning to mindlessly genuflect before notions of order imposed on the environment by nervous, reactionary corporate entities. Imagine Scouts being sent into the forest to identify likely spots for clearcutting by timber companies. Or, in perhaps a better analogy, to identify and destroy any illegally planted vegetation.

Speaking as a newbie Tiger Cub dad, I guess they'll need to start rethinking their motto: "Search, Discover, Share." Maybe something more like, "Search, Discover, Enter into a contractual arrangement which limits your rights and loads your content with crippling DRM." Yeah, that's the ticket.

Just cutting and pasting from the NYT feed...

Observed at 0-dark-30, 20 October, at the following suspect URL:

News Item

The U.S.-led crackdown on violence in American military’s new security plan for Baghdad has not met expectations, Maj. failed to reduce the violence and a new approach is needed, said Gen. William B. Caldwell IV said today in Baghdad.Caldwell, a spokesman.

NYT > Home Page 10/19/06 6:54 PM MICHAEL LUO

Richard Dawkins on Colbert

Dawkins on the 'God Hypothesis': "At best superfluous, at worst, unparsimonious."

Colbert: "Do both of those mean you surrender?"


Scott Rosenberg on Rick Santorum's Tolkien riff

Spot-on analysis from Scott Rosenberg on just how dumb Santorum's "Eye of Mordor" analogy is. No summary -- just go read it.

Ken Lay dead, comma, innocent

Okay, it makes all the legal sense in the world. If you die after an unfavorable verdict at trial and don't have the opportunity to appeal your conviction, the legal system should expunge the whole thing, undo the indictment as if it never happened, and make you innocent until proven guilty again. And by gosh, that's just the kind of absolution the dear departed Kenny Boy got from a Texas judge today. See the whole story in the Washington Post.

Fortunately, now that Bush has signed the Torture Bill into law, once the Democrats take control, we can just declare any future Ken Lays enemies of the state and beat the crap truth out of them.

A-and what does this mean for poor, fucked-over Lee Harvey Oswald? He never even got a chance to go to trial, but Geralds Ford and Posner found him guilty. Will no Texas judge stand up for him?

"Army STRONG!" nb -- not, uh, "army smart"

Now let me get this straight. The centerpiece of No Child Left Behind is standardized testing, but it is okay to relax testing standards when you can't drum up enough recruits for an unpopular war. According to the notoriously liberal rag USA Today, over 2,000 of this year's recruits performed below the levels that would have been previously required on basic aptitude tests.

The Army said all the recruits with low scores had received high school diplomas. In a written statement, the Army said good test scores do not necessarily equate to quality soldiers. USA Today

In an unrelated story, the Army changed their tag line from "An Army of One," to "Army Strong" (Thanks, McCann, who get $200 million a year for the campaign!)

Perhaps the old tag line seemed a bit, well, premonitory.

And it's not just lower test standards. Drug users, criminals, gang members, and skinheads area all welcome. See also the SF Chronicle story, "U.S. Recruiting Misfits"

"What are U wearing?" -- Congressional IM shorthand, via

As usual, the liberal media has it all wrong. The new online world is a very different place, and congresscritters have adapted with startling speed, developing a lexicon of shorthand to make communications more secure. What could be better than a code that looks like instant-message sex?

Those inspired truth-seekers at dug up a compendium of these congressional text-message translations -- you'll see just how hard our representatives were working when you thought they were just jacking off.

Message: "How often do U work out?"
Translation: If there is a last minute vote, please contact me via my pager as I may be out of cell phone range.

From the really, really NSFW memo on common Congressional terminology.

Also, if you are into merch, check out their new Foley gear. (Thanks, Ka!)

Co-sleep fearmongering by Southcoast Hospitals and Bristol DA

An unsolicited newsletter from the Southcoast Hospital group showed up yesterday, with the startling headling: "The Dangers of Sharing a Bed with Your Baby." Co-sponsored by the Bristol county DA´s office (and yes, he's running for re-election...) Southcoast sees its mission to prevent tragedy and "educate people about the dangers of bed sharing."

Now I've followed the literature on this, and while there are clearly risks associated with co-present factors and SIDS (adult bedding materials, siblings in bed, overheating, etc.), I'd like to hear Southcoast and the DA explain the nature of the specific risk associated with the practice itself.

Even the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (which Southcoast links to) merely makes safety suggestions in their NICH bed-sharing FAQ.

So where's the fear coming from? The Consumer Product Safety Commission (which presumably wants to forestall any action against bedding manufacturers) and Southcoast (which clearly wants to be on the record as warning people.) Why the hell the Bristol DA is sticking his nose into a medical, family issue is beyond me.

None of want kids to get hurt. But SIDS kills 2,000 babies a year; let's attack the root cause (is there anyone who doesn't practice Back To Sleep yet?) and not some peripheral factor which would end up putting more kids farther from their parents.

For more balanced recommendations, try or the CDC (which, although recommending separate sleeping, provides sensible guidelines for parents who co-sleep.)

(Thanks, Julie, for catching my typos!)

WaPo goes deep on Reading First: "This program bashing is best done..under the...radar."

Nice reporting on the widening troubles at the Department of Ed, where their "Reading First" program looks more and more like "campaign donors first," in a billion-dollar boondoggle contravening the stated aim of the program to base itself on scientific research.

Via the Washington Post
"In fact, the vast majority of the 4,800 Reading First schools have now adopted one of the five or six top-selling commercial textbooks, even though none of them has been evaluated in a peer-reviewed study against a control group. Most of the schools also use the same assessment program, the same instructional model, and one of three training programs developed by Reading First insiders -- with little research backing."

The (now resigned) program director, Chris Doherty, crows about strong-arming states into using his pet materials. "This program bashing is best done off or under the major radar screens."

Yeah, now that's just the kind of openness and concern for children that the Bush administration brought to Washington.